Sir Tom Stoppard pays tribute to 'anti-hero' Lou Reed for his role in the Velvet Revolution
The Velvet Underground inspired Sir Tom's play, Rock 'n' Roll
Sir Tom Stoppard has paid tribute to Lou Reed, whose music inspired his award-winning play Rock 'n' Roll, calling the ground-breaking artist who died on Sunday, a "hero because he was an anti-hero".
Stoppard's Rock 'n' Roll, which premiered in 2006, explores the influential role that the Velvet Underground's music played in creating the dissident movement in Czechoslovakia, whose leading figures ultimately overthrew the Communist regime in the Velvet Revolution of 1989.
But like many who came across the obstreperous musician, Sir Tom admits he was too intimidated to engage Reed in an extended conversation when they met.
The Czech-born Stoppard used Plastic People of the Universe, the underground Prague band formed after its members heard the first Velvet Underground album in 1967, as the springboard for Rock 'n' Roll.
Václav Havel, the rock-music loving playwright who went on to lead the peaceful overthrow of the Communists, launched a campaign for human rights following the 1976 arrests of the band, accused by the authorities of "disturbing the peace".
Sir Tom told The Independent: "Lou Reed was a hero because he was an anti-hero. He was revered by the band (Plastic People) which represented the aspirations of the dissident part of youthful Czech life – and the not-so youthful."
Sir Tom, 76, added: "Because I was writing about the Czech side of this I became fascinated by Reed and ultimately met him in Prague. I say I met him but I was far too terrified to talk to him. We probably exchanged two words.
"I was taken by the curious combination of his rather forbidding leather, the jacketed, unshaven, dark shades image and this sweetness of some of his love songs. I played (Velvet Underground classic) "Pale Blue Eyes" so many times. So he became one of the very few artists that are always present in my life."
Reed, who died aged 71 from liver disease, inspired countless imitators. Sir Tom said: "He is one of those few in the world of rock 'n' roll whose descendants are far more numerous than one imagines at first thought. Metaphorically speaking, the world is now full of his children and grand-children and great grand-children. It's an influence in places where that influence is unconscious."
Sir Tom continued: "These sort of musicians transcend their real life existence – they are not merely icons, they become gurus and holy men as well as singers and songwriters. We understand that to some degree because we were touched by it. He had such an aura about him."
Sir Tom, who recently turned Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon into a radio play, wanted to explore the power of The Velvet Underground’s influence over the Czech dissident movement in Rock 'n' Roll. The play begins during the Prague Spring uprising of 1968 and ends with a Rolling Stones concert in the city after the Communists had been banished by protestors led by Havel, who went on to become Czech President.
Sir Tom said: "I became very interested in the Plastic People of the Universe. What I knew about them was the guy who started the band (Bassist Milan Hlavsa) didn't know how to play rock 'n' roll but wanted to play rock 'n' roll.
"He kept realising that he couldn't do that and one day he heard the Velvet Underground and thought – aha, that I can do! My heart warmed to this Czech bass player because it was something one can understand the reaction to – it was 'simple, sophisticated' rather than 'complex sophisticated.'"
Reed looks likely to make a chart return this week after his death prompted a sales boost for his best-known songs.
His 1972 release "Perfect Day" is currently at number 33, according to data from the Official Charts Company, and it would be the first time his recording of the song had made the top 40.
A BBC Children In Need version, which gathered stars such as David Bowie, Sir Tom Jones and Evan Dando, went to number one for three weeks following its 1997 release and has become one of the biggest-selling singles in the UK, with 1.55 million sales.
Reed's "Walk On The Wild Side", which peaked at number 10 in 1973, is currently at number 38, according to early sales predictions.
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